This study was done to compare the actions of pulsatile and continuous insulin administration in eight noninsulin-dependent diabetic patients. Human insulin was delivered in a pulsatile manner (1.3 mU/kg.min for 2 min, followed by 11 min during which no insulin was infused) or continuously (0.2 mU/kg.min) for 325 min. Endogenous hormone secretion was inhibited by somatostatin (125 micrograms/h), and glucagon was replaced at rate of 3.5 micrograms/h. Under these conditions plasma C-peptide levels fell progressively to extremely low values at the end of the experiment. Continuous insulin infusion resulted in steady plasma insulin levels, averaging 86 pmol/L, while during intermittent insulin administration plasma insulin levels were 5.7 and 158 pmol/L before and 3 min after the start of the insulin injection, respectively. Basal plasma glucagon [mean 158 +/- 11 (+/- SE) vs. 163 +/- 21 ng/L; P = NS] levels were similar on both occasions. During replacement peripheral plasma glucagon levels were no different whatever the mode of insulin administration, nor did they differ from the basal values. The mean plasma glucose concentrations were similar before both studies and rose to 9.5 and 8.6 mmol/L in the first 65 min during continuous and pulsatile insulin administration, respectively. In contrast, during the last 65 min, plasma glucose averaged 6.2 mmol/L during both studies. The glucose infusion rate initially increased, but then rapidly fell to values close to zero at the end of the first 65 min during the continuous insulin infusion, whereas during this time it averaged 0.59 +/- 0.10 mg/kg.min (32.5 +/- 5.5 mumol/kg.min) during pulsatile insulin administration. In the last 65 min the glucose infusion rate was significantly higher during pulsatile than during continuous insulin delivery. Furthermore, pulsatile rather than continuous insulin administration significantly reduced plasma triglyceride, very low density lipoprotein triglyceride, and FFA levels and increased high density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein-B levels. We conclude that pulsatile insulin delivery has advantageous metabolic effects compared to continuous hormone administration in patients with noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.